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Ireland or Scotland: Which is Better for Families?

Ireland or Scotland: Which is Better for Families?

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Are you debating between a Scotland or Ireland vacation? Keep scrolling to find out everything you need to know about choosing a trip to Ireland vs Scotland.
This comparison of Ireland vs Scotland was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

With no exaggeration, Ireland and Scotland are both perfect countries for a family vacation. I’ve personally visited them both and they are incredible!

They’re both so perfect – and similar – that it can be super difficult to choose which one you want to visit!

Both are English-speaking, lush green countries with lots of historic castles, traditional folk music, and similar cuisine. 

Their capitals, Edinburgh and Dublin, are both great for city breaks. The countryside in either Ireland or Scotland is ideal for a week-long (or longer!) family road trip.

So, when debating your Ireland vs Scotland travel plans, you can’t go wrong. But you still need to make a decision!

Lucky for you, this guide looks closely at all the differences and similarities between the two beautiful countries so you can ensure your family has the best possible experience!

What is the Difference Between Scotland and Ireland?

There are many similarities between Scotland and Ireland. They both have ties to Celtic cultures, drive on the left, and use the three-pronged Type G plug socket.

But it’s not hard to find something different between Ireland and Scotland, either!

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Language

Scotland’s official languages are English, Scots, and Scottish Gaelic. Ireland’s official languages are English and Irish.

In both countries, English is the dominant language. But there’s a big difference between Scottish and Irish languages despite some overlaps.

Around 40% of Ireland residents (and growing!) claim to speak some Irish. You’ll see translations on every roadsign and hear them on public announcements. Scottish Gaelic is less widespread.

Currency

Ireland uses the Euro (EUR) currency. Scotland is part of the United Kingdom so it uses Great British Pounds (GBP). 

Folklore

Banshees bringing death and Leprechauns seeking pots of gold at the end of rainbows only appear in Irish folklore! Finn MacCool, the giant who built the iconic Giant’s Causeway, is also a unique Irish figure.

My son searched for Nessie on Loch Ness. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Scotland has their own mystical beings. The Loch Ness Monster can only be found in Loch Ness. Kelpies (shape-shifting water horses) and selkies (shape-shifting seal humans) are mostly found in Scottish folktales too!

Landscape

Ireland’s tallest mountain is Carrauntoohil, which only measures 3,407 ft/1,038 m above sea level. Scotland’s tallest peak is Ben Nevis, climbing 4,413 ft/1,345 m high.

While Ireland has 18 peaks over 3,000 ft, Scotland boasts 282. This makes a difference to the landscape! 

Ireland has more quintessential rolling hills, while Scotland’s terrain is more dramatic and varied.

How Many Days in Ireland vs Scotland?

Whether you’re planning an epic road trip or a long weekend city break with the family, it would be a shame to visit either Ireland or Scotland and miss the top spots. 

Here is the ideal amount of days to plan on your Scotland vs Ireland travel itinerary.

How Many Days in Ireland?

Just visiting Dublin with the family? Three to four days in Dublin is enough to explore the city and take a day trip.

Seven days is enough if you’re visiting Dublin and a couple of other places like Cork and Killarney National Park.

Find out the best things to do in Cork with kids by top family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. Image of Marcie Cheung in front of colorful houses in Cork Ireland
Cork is a cute town that’s fun to walk around. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

On a 10-day trip, take a looped road trip from Dublin. Visit Cork, Killarney National Park, the Dingle Peninsula, the Cliffs of Moher, Connemara National Park, and Galway.

If you have two weeks, add Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast too!

How Many Days in Scotland?

Just visiting Edinburgh with the kids? Again, three to four days is the minimum amount if you also want to venture on a day trip. We spent 5 days in Edinburgh and it was perfect.

One week is just enough time to visit Edinburgh and head up to Inverness and Fort William (through Glen Coe) in the Highlands.

Find out the best things to do on the Isle of Skye in Scotland according to top family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. Image of Marcie Cheung and her son at the Quiriang on the Isle of Skye
I highly recommend making time to see the Ise of Skye. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

On a 10-day road trip, you can visit Edinburgh, Stirling, Inverness, Fort William, the Isle of Skye, and perhaps Glasgow on your way back to the capital.

If you have two weeks, add another island to your itinerary. Check out the Isle of Lewis and Harris or the Isle of Mull.

How To Get Around Ireland or Scotland

Public transportation (and struggles with driving) are almost identical in Scotland and Ireland, but there are some differences. Let’s compare the two! 

Ireland Public Transport and Rental Cars

All big cities in Ireland (Dublin, Cork, Belfast, and Galway, for example) and counties have a bus network. Dublin also has a tram network. 

Image of a tram in Dublin Ireland
Here’s the tram in Dublin. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

The major public transport companies connecting the cities are Bus Éireann and Irish Rail. Translink is the main bus and train company operating in Northern Ireland and across the border.

However, public transport is not the best way to get around if you want to venture outside the cities! Road-tripping Ireland makes way more sense when traveling in the countryside.

Both Dublin and Shannon Airports offer plenty of rental car options. 

Scotland Public Transport and Rental Cars

Like Ireland, Scotland’s major cities (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, and Aberdeen, for example) and council areas have a bus network. Edinburgh also has a tram network.

Image of two boys on the train to Edinburgh from London.
We love using the train in Scotland. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

ScotRail is Scotland’s public rail network and CityLink is the major bus company. You’ll find that the further north into the Highlands you travel, there are fewer trains and more buses. 

Scotland’s mountainous terrain is not suitable for cars! And there aren’t any train tunnels through hills like Italy’s rail network.

It’s more convenient to rent a car when exploring Scotland’s countryside. You’ll find lots of rental companies at both Glasgow and Edinburgh Airports.

Hitchhiking is also completely normal on the islands where public transport is scarce. However, you might not want to use this transportation method with your kids!

Ireland vs Scotland Tourist Attractions

Ireland and Scotland have their fair share of castles, historic sites, churches, and beautiful landscapes. While Scotland has the most UNESCO sites, Ireland has more national parks.

These are just some of the best things to do in both countries!

Image of Marcie Cheung kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland
Kissing the Blarney Stone is a bucket list item! Photo credit: Keryn Means

Kid-Friendly Ireland Attractions

  • Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland – The island’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, this coastline covered in interlocking basalt columns needs to be seen to be believed!
  • Cliffs of Moher in County Clare – Majestic cliffs on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way route
  • Viking Splash Tour in Dublin – Learn about Dublin’s Viking heritage while touring Dublin’s streets and rivers in this fun, amphibious vehicle
  • Killarney National Park in County Kerry – Ride horses, sail kayaks, and chase waterfalls in Ireland’s oldest national park
  • Blarney Castle & Gardens in County Cork – Visit a 15th-century medieval castle and receive the ‘Gift of the Gab’ by kissing an ancient, magical stone
  • Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary – St Patrick baptized the King of Munster here in the 5th century and it’s a great road trip stop
  • Wicklow Mountains National Park – Drive through the Sally Gap and see Ireland’s most beautiful lakeside view at Glendalough. Get more County Wicklow ideas
Image of a boy holding a sword in front of Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland
Eilean Donan Castle is where they filmed Highlander! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Kid-Friendly Scotland Attractions

  • Harry Potter Walking Tour in Edinburgh – See where the Edinburgh local and author of the Harry Potter books found inspiration
  • Loch Ness Boat Cruise in Inverness – Keep your eyes peeled for Nessie as you sail along one of Scotland’s largest lakes
  • Drive through Glen Coe – This is one of Scotland’s best and most breathtaking valleys to drive through en route to Fort William
  • Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William – Follow the tracks of the Hogwarts Express by riding this steam train in the Highlands
  • Stirling Castle and Wallace Monument in Stirling – Fans of Scottish hero William Wallace need to check out this medieval castle 220 ft-tall monument
  • The Fairy Glen on the Isle of Skye – These small, conical hills with ridges look so mystical, there must be fairies living here!
  • Eilean Donan Castle in Kyle of Lochalsh – Built on a small island in the middle of a lake, this 13th-century castle is the most picturesque in Scotland 

Best Ireland Museums for Kids

  • EPIC Ireland Emigration Museum in Dublin – State-of-the-art museum documents Ireland’s international history and it’s a must-visit for those with Irish ancestry!
  • Titanic Belfast Experience in Belfast – Learn all about the design and construction of the famous ship in a huge exhibition (with a ride!) in the city where it was built
  • The Little Museum of Dublin – Learn about Dublin’s history in a fun environment featuring comic strips and pop culture memorabilia
  • Bunratty Castle & Folk Park in County Clare – This living museum brings 19th-century Ireland to life complete with thatched-roof cottages and stores
The National Museum of Scotland is a must-do for families. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Best Scotland Museums for Kids

  • National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh – This free museum has tons of interactive exhibitions for kids with a killer view of the city from the roof
  • Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum in Glasgow – Beautiful artwork housed in a 1901 building and a sprawling city park
  • Skye Museum of Island Life on the Isle of Skye – Preserved buildings showcase how life might have looked for people living on Skye in different periods

Can You Visit Both Scotland and Ireland on the Same Trip?

Yes, you can definitely visit Scotland and Ireland on the same trip!

The distance between Ireland and Scotland is 12 miles/20km. You can easily see mainland Scotland while driving along the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland.

There are multiple flights from Scottish airports like Edinburgh and Glasgow to Irish airports like Dublin and Cork every day. There are plenty of flights to Belfast too!

But how far is Scotland from Ireland? The flight time between Edinburgh and Cork is 90 minutes, Flights between Glasgow and Belfast are 45 minutes, so it’s a quick ride.

Plus, the Common Travel Area (CTA) agreement between Ireland and the UK means you won’t pass through border control in your arrival country. 

But keep your passport handy at all times just in case!

Catching the ferry between Ireland and Scotland is also easy. Just make sure you’ve pre-arranged the border crossing with your car rental company.

But taking the ferry from Scotland to Dublin isn’t possible. Sailing from the Scottish port town of Stranraer to Belfast (two hours) is easily the best way to travel with a car over the Irish Sea.

Ireland or Scotland FAQs

Is Scotland part of Ireland?

Nope, Scotland is not part of Ireland! It’s surprising how many people wonder, “Is Scotland in Ireland?” but it makes sense when you think about it. 

Scotland is part of the United Kingdom which, along with Ireland, is part of the British Isles. Northern Ireland is also part of the UK. The Republic of Ireland is its own separate country.

It’s easy to get confused if you’ve never visited that part of Europe! 

Is Ireland Worth Visiting?

Yes, Ireland is absolutely worth visiting as a family.

It’s easy to reach from North America and there are no language barriers for English speakers. Renting a car to explore the lush green hills of the Emerald Isle couldn’t be simpler.

You’ll have so much fun seeking out castles, drying off in cozy pubs listening to traditional folk music, and chatting with the friendly locals.

Is Scotland Worth Visiting?

Scotland is definitely worth visiting, especially if you have kids!

Edinburgh and Glasgow have convenient airports and there’s no language barrier for anglophones. Your kids will love riding the Harry Potter steam train, hunting for the Loch Ness Monster, and stomping up and down medieval cobblestone streets.

Are Ireland and Scotland in the same time zone?

Yes, Ireland and Scotland are in the same time zone.

They both use Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) from October to March and British Summer Time (BST) for the rest of the year.

When is the best time to visit Ireland or Scotland?

Summer is the best time to visit Scotland or Ireland with your kids for the best weather. However, the ‘best’ weather doesn’t necessarily mean ‘hot’ and you should expect rain at any time of year!

Keep in mind that summer is also the busiest time to visit. Accommodation and flight prices will also be at their highest. But if you’re organized, you can enjoy a stress-free family vacation. 

Spring break is also a great option if you don’t mind braving the March/April showers!

Is Scotland or Ireland more expensive?

Everything considered, Ireland is more expensive than Scotland for tourists.

Flights to Ireland from North America might be cheaper on average due to the proximity and frequency of flights. But that’s it!

Dublin is almost as expensive as London these days, so Scotland’s capital Edinburgh will feel like a bargain. You’ll find that accommodation, food, gas, and almost everything else is cheaper in Scotland.

This is largely due to currency. So yes, Northern Ireland is also cheaper than the Republic of Ireland!

Is Scotland bigger than Ireland?

Nope, Ireland is bigger than Scotland!

Scotland’s land area covers 30,090 square miles, while Ireland covers 32,595 square miles. This even excludes Northern Ireland, which has a land area of 5,326 square miles.

Scotland can often feel bigger due to the shape of the country and the many islands you can visit. Around 94 of Scotland’s islands are inhabited. 

That’s a lot more than Ireland’s 23 inhabited islands!

Ireland or Scotland Wrap-Up

Whether you’re planning a short city break or an epic road trip, this breakdown should hopefully have made your Ireland or Scotland decision easier.

They’re both such family-friendly destinations that you and your kids will have an unforgettable vacation regardless!

Looking for more Ireland and Scotland content? Check out 13 Important Ireland Travel Tips for First-Timers, 21 Most Spectacular Hidden Gems in Ireland, 10 Best Dublin Hotels for Families Worth Booking, Planning a Trip to Scotland: Step-by-Step Guide, and Best Harry Potter Places in Scotland Worth Visiting!

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